Master Fellow


In 2005, the Wilderness Medical Society (WMS) pursued a concept in wilderness medicine education originally created by James R. Liffrig MD for the express purpose of offering the WMS membership the opportunity to gain a valuable and recognizable broad based education in Wilderness Medicine. The Academy of Wilderness Medicine, created by the WMS as the governing arm of the Society’s educational endeavor, has overseen this project, known as the Fellowship of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine. Since the first Fellows’ class in 2007, over 150 people have completed their Fellowship of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine, and the Academy had over  690  Fellow Candidates as of the summer of 2010.

By all measures the Fellowship of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine has been a success for the WMS and has evolved into an invigorating educational activity for the WMS membership. The success of the Academy and Fellowship does give rise to a new challenge for the Wilderness Medical Society. Succinctly, given the number of WMS members that will complete their Fellowship in the Academy of Wilderness Medicine in the next five years, how do we continue to meet the developmental needs of our ever growing and educated membership?

In the original Fellowship proposal by James Liffrig MD, Dr. Liffrig proposed the development of an advance degree in Wilderness Medicine, beyond that of a Fellow,  that  included specialization within the scope of Wilderness Medicine under the direction of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine. Though the development of the advanced degree was not undertaken at that time, it was considered a natural and future enhancement to the Academy of Wilderness Medicine. Now, as we enter our fifth year of the Academy and Fellowship Program, the Academy oversight committee and Board of Directors have approved an advanced degree track in the Academy of Wilderness Medicine’s Fellowship Program.

Creating a Master’s Degree-level program in Wilderness Medicine however does not come without challenges. The WMS membership is a mixture of healthcare providers and academics from a variety of disciplines and educational backgrounds throughout the world. Given this population, can an educational program be created that would be rigorous enough to meet the educational needs and expectations of our Society and flexible enough to encompass the scope of Wilderness Medicine and be available to all our members throughout the world?

During the July 2009 Annual Meeting in Snowmass, the WMS Board of Directors approved a concept paper detailing the structure of a specialized educational program in Wilderness Medicine. This new Master’s Degree Program offered by the Academy of Wilderness Medicine has, and continues to be, beta tested over the last year and was announced to the Wilderness Medical Society’s membership during the Snowmass 2010 Fellow’s Convocation at the 2010 Annual Meeting. In contrast to the Fellow’s Program, which is a broad-based or “Baccalaureate” program, this new educational program is a specific area of study or “Master”-level program. It is therefore referred to as the Master’s Fellow Degree Program. In creating this new Master program, an effort was made to consider adult learning theories and  Kaufman’s “seven principals to guide  teaching practice” that combines adult learning theories to help create a program that could fulfill the needs of the WMS membership (Kaufman D., Applying educational theory in practice. Brit Med J. 2003;326:213-216). The Kaufman’s seven principals to guide teaching practice are as follows:

Through utilization of adult learning theories via Kaufman’s seven principals, the Master program will fulfill the needs of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine and the WMS membership. The following is a brief description of this new and innovative program.


The Master Fellow degree program is an advanced, post-fellow certification that was created to denote individuals who have excelled in a specific sub- discipline within the scope of Wilderness Medicine in addition to being Fellows of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine. The Master program is an attempt to:

1. Further the academic programs of the WMS.
2. Allow additional academic enrichment opportunities for WMS members.
3. Create a group of experts in specific sub-disciplines for utilization in teaching, lecturing and research development.
4. Create a cadre of ever evolving leaders for the WMS to utilize.

The Master Fellow curriculum is divided into three parts:

The Master Fellow Candidate is asked to select an area of concentration. These can be (but are not limited to) one of the 16 sub-disciplines for the Fellow candidates. For sub-disciplines that are not part of the 16 sub-disciplines (Required Topics & Electives) – they will be evaluated and granted or denied on an individual basis.

It is expected that the Master Candidate will attend as many WMS/AWM-sponsored or affiliated lectures as possible regarding his/her selected subdivision. However, during the Master Fellow Candidate’s time of study not all of these lectures may be offered. As a result, the fellow and his or her advisor will identify critical publications for the fellow to study from.

Academic and Scholarly Activity

It is required of the Master Fellow Candidate to complete a scholarly activity. This activity will be focused on their given area of concentration and could also be in the form of a formal lecture or forum or lecture series given at one of the WMS meeting. The activity can also be in the form of a manuscript fit for publication. (Examples could be, but are not limited to, a literature review or original research which could be presented at a WMS meeting either in the research abstract or poster presentations.)

Experiential Activity

It is an expectation that the Master Fellow Candidate would have excellent hands-on Wilderness Medicine skills. To help hone and demonstrate these skills, Master Fellow Candidates would be expected to assist with the preconference workshops such as WALS and AWLS as provided by NOLS, WMI, WMA etc.  Additionally, this requirement could be met by leading small WMS sponsored experiential trips (For our example - a small adventure trip sponsored by the WMS).


For any future MFAWM applications the following requirements apply:

  1. Be designated a Fellow of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine in good standing for at least 2 years.
  2. Provide the FAWM Oversight Committee a letter of intent along with A) A named sub-discipline area; B) A letter of acceptance from your fellow advisor (see below for advisor definition) – advisors must be registered with the Academy;
  3. Pay the Master Fellow enrollment fee (in the WMS Trading Post).
  4. Complete the Master Fellow application. Click here to upload completed application.
  5. Application fee is due at time of submission.
  6. Receive an acceptance letter into the Master Fellow program from the Academy of Wilderness.
  7. Become a WMS Life Member upon acceptance of MFAWM application.
  8. All portions of the MFAWM must occur after the approval of the application, i.e., no retrospective credit for the hands on or other portions of the MFAWM.

Candidates must complete the Master Fellow program within a 5-year period. Like most advanced degrees, the Master Fellow is primarily a self-education program. To ensure that the candidate is achieving his or her milestones, the use of an advisor is required.

Fellow Advisors

Advisors will help the candidate to work through their Master Fellow program.   Advisors should be experts in their field and well known Wilderness Medicine faculty members. Any of the WMS faculty may serve as a Fellow Advisor. A list of current and preceding faculty can be given for help in identification of an advisor. This said however, an advisor from outside the WMS can be utilized if he or she has the experience in both the sub-discipline and in Wilderness Medicine to be considered at a WMS faculty level.  All advisors must have their resume submitted to the Academy and must be approved and registered as an advisor by the Academy.

The advisors will be responsible for providing the Candidate for Master Fellow direction on what literature to review, specific texts that would be appropriate to help the Candidate grow his/her fund of knowledge in the chosen concentration area.

Wilderness Medical Society Master Fellow Academic Portfolio

The Advisor is the best judge of the Candidate but, to make sure the experience is universal and more or less equal across the board   – the candidate will be asked to keep a Wilderness Medicine academic portfolio. The portfolio will contain the following information:

  1. Literature reviewed.
  2. The scholarly activity.
  3. A letter validating a successful experience in the hands-on experience (could have video samples of teaching style/techniques).
  4. Faculty advisor letter recommending completion.
  5. The portfolio should be collected via an electronic manner.

Once the portfolio is submitted, the Academy Oversight Committee will review the portfolio to assure that all the aspects of the Master Fellow Program have been addressed and to assure that a Master level experience was obtained. The Academy Oversight Committee will vote on passage and with a majority vote the Candidate can then be awarded a Master Fellow Degree.

Faculty Advisor Guidelines

As a Faculty Advisor for a Master Fellow Candidate, the following are some of the expectations for you and the Candidate:

  1. If/when there are any questions, please feel free to contact the WMS/Academy for direction/advice. We at the WMS and Academy want to make the Advisor-Master Fellow activity as enjoyable as possible for the Advisor and the Candidate.
  2. Agreeing to be a Faculty Advisor for a Master Fellow Candidate is an educational contract between you and the Candidate. You are to act as an advisor but it is the Candidate who must show growth and eventual expertise in the selected area.
  3. The area of concentration is chosen by the Candidate and should be an area in which you have some significant familiarity. If you feel that you do not have adequate background in this area please let the Candidate know and possibly recommend someone who may be more appropriate.
  4. At the very least we recommend quarterly meetings between you and your Candidate. Most will probably meet much more often. Meetings can be over the phone.
  5. Your first meeting with your Candidate will probably be a “feeling out” activity for you as an advisor. You will be accessing what the Candidate’s level of comprehension in his or her chosen concentration is and what the overall goal is regarding this endeavor.
  6. During this first meeting be sure to remind the Candidate to begin assembling his/her electronic academic portfolio. This is a crucial portion of the Candidate's evaluation process and is much easier to create as the Candidate goes along. Much is lost if it is thrown together in the final hour and that may end up hurting the Candidate.
  7. After the initial meeting (or even during) a recommendation from you on a basic text and a literature search strategy. The Candidate will have the ability to search the Wilderness and Environmental Medicine journal (which should be recommended) but he/or she may not have the ability to search further (ie. Medline or Pubmed).  If the Candidate does not have this ability please assist them in gaining access possibly through your institution.
  8. The literature review can take some time, but between the recommended texts and the 50 to 75 articles found in the literature search, the Fellow should begin to grasp the greater depths of his/her subject. At this time it is important to begin to probe and possibly assist the Candidate in a scholarly activity endeavor.
  9. The scholarly activity can be any type of activity but at this level a high emphasis on publishable material is given. In addition it should be emphasized that this activity should be presented at a WMS meeting. You may assist with any research; the Candidate is encouraged to include the Advisor on any/all published manuscripts.
  10. As an Advisor, be sure that the Candidate participates in the experiential portion of his or her education at some point. To accomplish this, be sure to remind the Candidate to contact the AWM to schedule them into a pre-conference workshop. The pre-conference workshop faculty will be asked to evaluate the Candidate and help with any educational points that need addressing. It is possible that some Candidates may need to repeat the experiential activity to truly gain mastery. If this happens, remind the Candidate that this is beneficial rather than punitive.
  11. Once the Candidate has completed the three main portions of the program, the Faculty Advisor should meet with the Candidate, shore up any deficits and then, upon mutual agreement between the Advisor and the Candidate, submit for completion.
  12. Submitting for completion of a Master Fellowship includes a letter from you, the Advisor, stating that in your opinion he/she is ready to achieve Master Fellow Status within our society. The Candidate will need to submit this letter within his/her academic portfolio which will be evaluated by the Academy oversight Committee. The evaluation process makes sure that all Candidates have a similar experience and assures that a Master level of activity is achieved. If there are any questions the committee will contact the Candidate and possibly you as the advisor to clear up questions regarding the Candidate.
  13. During the entire process if there are any questions please do not hesitate to call us.